ESPC21 Online – My Recommendations for Sessions to Watch

Again this year, I have been asked to write my recommendations for sessions to see at ESPC21.

I am not sure whether anyone would benefit from reading my opinion, my interests are pretty eclectic. Should I follow a theme? I could recommend nothing but Karuana Gatimu sessions, she is giving a total of 5 sessions, one in every time slot, she could have a track all to herself. Or maybe nothing but Dev sessions or Teams sessions?

Instead, I will follow my actual interests, mostly new features that are presented by people who I know are articulate and interesting, in areas that I am working in right now. There are always surprises from people I don’t know, and topics I didn’t know were interesting, but I’m not the one you should trust for those. 

These are the sessions that I am most looking forward to. 

I’m starting out with a safe bet for the tutorials, some innovations that require a more in-depth session. You also need a presenter who can keep your attention for hours in a row. I would recommend “Building Microsoft Teams Custom Solutions” by Paolo Pialorsi on the Friday 28th from 10:00 am to 4:30 PM CEST. 

Tuesday June 01 2021

I’m looking forward to the keynote “What’s New and What’s Next for the Microsoft Power Platform” by Charles Lamanna Corporate Vice President at Microsoft, at 10:00 AM CEST. Recommending a keynote is lazy, of course you’ll go, but not all keynotes are worth recommending. There are a lot of promising changes coming to the Power Platform, and in my opinion it could use a lot of improvements.

I will also enjoy “Microsoft Search in SharePoint and Office 365” by Thanuja Priyadarshani of the FAST team in Microsoft Norway, and Kerem Yuceturk also of Microsoft at 12:30 PM CEST. They presented a great session at Ignite 2020, so you can’t go wrong here.

I am typically not a fan of security sessions. Sometimes they just like to terrify you and then focus on one unpleasant thing they want everyone to do. But it’s different with renowned cybersecurity expert Paula Januszkiewicz. Hearing her, each organization’s security is an interesting puzzle that professionals can solve. Her solutions are not just adding an unpleasant technology layer, she makes cybersecurity sound like fun.  I would definitely go to “Unlimited Sherlock: Deep-Dive into Current Threats and Mitigations” at 12:30 PM CEST.

I also recommend “I Find your Lack of Azure Governance Disturbing!” at 2:00 PM CEST.  Azure governance is pretty complex, and I have seen clients who reflexively deny everything or allow everything, or even worse who centralize things with a busy tyrant who gets talked into allowing things. Tiago Costa has given a lot of interesting talks about a lot of Azure topics, so it should be good.

How about a couple more Teams sessions? Karuana Gatimu and Stephen Rose are giving a “Teams Administration 101” session at 14:00 PM CEST. Come learn from the experts, but experts who are passionate about users, all users not just the techies. 

I am also keen on “Microsoft Teams: What you SHOULD know about SharePoint” by Tracy Van der Schyff at 14:00 PM CEST. It’s a bonus session so you need a ticket. There is a complex relationship between Teams and SharePoint. You need to understand it, but more importantly you need to know how to explain it to your colleagues. Tracy is the person to help you with both.

Melissa Torres of Microsoft has been busy delivering new features lately.  The “mother of hubs” is teaming up with design manager Dieter Jansen to explain the new global navigation that is rolling out right now as well as other goodies that will improve access to your SharePoint content. Definitely go see “Architecting your Intelligent Intranet with SharePoint Global Navigation, Hubs and Site Designs” at 2:40 PM CEST to see how these new features will change how you work.

How about another session by Karuana Gatimu? They’re all worthwhile, she is a very good speaker, but one I will be watching is “Automating Technology Adoption: Apps, Bots, Connectors and More” at 3:30PM CEST. You get all the fun things in one presentation, in the name of adoption.  Sign me up!

Wednesday June 02, 2021

I will be seeing “PnP PowerShell is Dead, Long Live PnP PowerShell!” by Erwin van Hunen at 11:40 AM CEST. The old PnP PowerShell has been archived and the new PnP PowerShell has moved to PnP Core, itself based on the latest cross-platform PowerShell. This unlocks a whole new set of scenarios, but it leaves some things behind as well. You’re probably using these libraries already. Find out from Erwin directly what this new version means for you. For more, you might also want to check out “Introducing the New PnP Core SDK Library” by Paolo Pialorsi at 3:30PM CEST.

You might be surprised how many of your colleagues have a disability you don’t know about.  Small things can have a big effect on the ability of part of your current workforce and potential workforce to be productive, and Office 365 has come a long way in recent years.  I recommend  “Boost Employee Productivity with an Inclusive and Accessible Environment” by Beatriz Oliveira at 11:40AM CEST. Beatriz has always been a champion of accessibility and diversity. I guarantee you’ll find her approach and perspective very engaging.

I’ve been following the exciting adventures of Elio Struyf in Static Site land. Static sites meet documentation, and later encounter a community conference, and finally, a sticker store. It’s a more difficult problem than you’d think, and the solutions are interesting. I will find out more in “Making Dynamic Sites with Static Site Generators” at 2:40PM CEST.

The talk I most look forward to, by far, is “Applying AI at Scale with Microsoft Search”, by Kate Cook and Youngji Kim of Microsoft at 11:00PM CEST. I have spent decades in AI and computational linguistics, both in research and applications. The Turing models on which this talk is based are the most exciting part of Microsoft’s AI at Scale initiative. They have reached “human parity” in task after task in natural language. These models are now using neural networks of staggering size, billions of parameters, and Microsoft’s breakthroughs now allow trillions of parameters with the new ZeRO-Infinity technology.  Microsoft has pioneered work not only in scaling AI but also in language-independent and “zero-shot learning” representations.  The other aspect is how quickly these breakthroughs get applied to business problems, in production. This is what the future looks like, see it here first.

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